Martin rules out strike action by lawyers

PUBLISHED July 28, 2005

Strike action by lawyers over the funding crisis in the legal aid system is inappropriate and would not work, the new President of the Law Society has suggested.

In an interview with the Gazette, Kevin Martin said: ?While I can quite understand barristers not accepting criminal briefs, solicitors not signing up to price competitive contracts, and solicitors pulling out of legal aid work completely or partially, strike action is not appropriate for a profession such as ours. It just would not work.?

Mr Martin, who took over from Edward Nally two weeks ago, suggested that the legal profession is ?smarter than that?, and should come up with other strategies.

In May, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) warned the Law Society that an organised boycott of competitive tendering in crime work would be unlawful (see [2005] Gazette, 19 May, 1). The OFT also told the Bar Council recently that collective action by barristers over rates of pay for Crown Court cases lasting between one and ten days would breach competition laws.

Although ruling out strike action, Mr Martin nevertheless heavily criticised the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer?s claim that there will be no extra cash for the legal aid pot.

The president said: ?We have to get the message across to the government that the legal aid system is falling apart. It is no good saying there is no more money. Legal aid deserts will be nothing compared with what you are going to see in a year or two?s time.?

Meanwhile, the Law Society has set up a steering group aimed at exchanging information and views over the Carter review of the legal aid system, announced by Lord Falconer earlier this month.

The group, headed by Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, a partner at London firm Scott-Moncrieff Harbour & Sinclair, will include members and staff of all Law Society committees that are related to legal aid.

The Carter review, expected to report early next year, will focus particularly on the growing crime budget and procuring services in both criminal and civil legal aid.

Ms Scott-Moncrieff said the group wanted to disseminate information among all parties interested in the future of legal aid, including the Law Society, practitioner groups and bodies representing clients.

?Obviously, not every individual or group will agree with every other in every detail,? she admitted. ?However, as we all agree that there is a crisis, it seems sensible to try and work together to maximise our chances of identifying workable solutions to suggest to the review team.?